London’s East End and Middle East
Yesterday’s Observer Review section had a special focus on the East End of London, as a slightly quirky preview of the Olympics. It covered everything from the best clubs to an interview with artist Rachel Whiteread who not only lives in the area but whose latest installation will be on the front of the Whitechapel Gallery. At its heart though was a piece by Rowan Moore, who is not only the paper’s architecture critic but also a long-term resident of the East End ( I suspect he spends his weekends in the country).
Moore discusses the perennial problem of gentrification, that the undoubted changes for the better in the physical environment and in facilities bring with them rising housing prices and a danger of not catering to long-term residents. This contrast is accentuated by the presence of Canary Wharf, the new financial district which houses some of the country’s richest (and most reviled) bankers. Moore talks about a ‘lumpy’ social fabric that echoes the lumpy physical fabric.
He doesn’t have many kind things to say about the Olympics either, arguing that it does not work as a coherent whole. Elsewhere in the paper there is a long article about the growing influence and ambitions of Qatar, which has bought the Olympic Park, and is of course a major investor in the Shard which had a fancy completion celebration last week. It certainly was Qatar’s week – there was also a large conference in London called Qatar Infrastructure Projects 2012 looking not at how the Qataris could further invest here, but at how the British could win work over there. It is a reminder of how truly international property and construction are.
But there is still a slight uneasiness about the level of Qatari investment in London’s property scene. This is not I think any particular dislike of the Qataris but just because it is a blatant reminder that so much of our infrastructure is seen as an investment opportunity rather than a way of improving the well-being of residents – whichever country they come from.